We all need energy to survive. That’s just the facts in our modern society. The problem is that producing energy is a dirty business, and actually burning it’s even worse. Since we can’t give up on fossil fuels all at once (although we do have the capacity to produce plenty of clean, affordable energy without them) conservation is often advocated as a way to minimize both cost and negative impacts.
The easiest way to manage and conserve energy is to simply use less of it. Turning off lights when they’re not needed, opting for fans instead of air conditioning, fixing leaky windows and faucets, and replacing wasteful incandescent bulbs with more efficient CFLs and LEDs are all relatively low-stress ways to shrink your energy usage. The only problem is these methods require diligence and determination, two things that can be hard to come by when the temperature is 105 degrees or you’ve got forgetful kids.
So, we’ve come up with more sophisticated ways to monitor and control energy consumption. One of the biggest changes has been to replace the old analog utility meters with “smart meters,” digital devices that not only record energy usage, but track valuable trends in how and when you use energy that is very useful for the power company. Smart meters eliminate the need for meter readers, allow power to be turned on and off remotely, and help utilities avoid widespread blackouts. Also, as GOOD points out,
“the big benefit of smart meters is ‘dynamic pricing.’ By providing utility companies with near real-time information about how much energy people in a given area are using, smart meters allow them to set the price for electricity according to the current demand.”
Many power companies have mandated the use of smart meters, hoping that it will help save both they and their customers some money. It’s important to note that while smart meters do increase efficiency, they are not the same as in-home energy monitors, or “smart thermostats” that enable residents to track and reduce their energy use automatically–smart meters are installed by and provide information to the utility company only.
Recently, however, there’s been some backlash against smart meters. Some concerned citizens claim that the radio frequencies that smart meters use to transmit information are harmful to human health. Many of these residents say they’ve experienced new or worsening health problems since a utility smart meter system has been installed on their home or in their neighborhood. Complaints range from insomnia, anxiety, and headaches to skin rashes, heart palpitations, and nausea. They claim that these health problems are the result of radio waves emitted by the smart meters as information is transmitted to and from the power company, and they want the right to opt out of installation.
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